Chris Johnson is capable of having personal and team goals because he’s set those every year he’s been in the NFL.
The running back’s 2,003 rushing yards in 2009 have frequently led reporters to ask if he thinks he can be the first player to eclipse the high mark twice in a career. When asked, Johnson usually answers that he wants to do it again and believes he can.
Johnson said Tuesday during his media session that some people have misconceived that he doesn’t have goals for the team if answers questions about his personal goals.
“Every year I come in I have a goal, but at the end of the day every time I say what my goal is everybody thinks I am a selfish player and I am not a team player,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, I still have my personal goals and at the same time I still have my team goals.”
Johnson said his goals for the Titans are to have a winning season, make the playoffs and have a shot at the Super Bowl. Tennessee made the playoffs in 2008 when Johnson was a rookie but dropped its first six games of 2009 before winning eight of 10 as Johnson rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the final 11 games that season.
Johnson and his teammates have used organized team activity practices and will use next week’s camp to work on building a more potent offense in 2013. Johnson is a big part of the plan, but Titans coach Mike Munchak said he can and will likely do more things than just run the football.
The team’s assessment of Johnson’s contributions, Munchak said, will go beyond the 100-yards-a-game metric.
“The type of offense we’re going to run, we need him to have success. It’s just a matter of how we measure that success,” Munchak said. “A lot of people think if he doesn’t go for 100 yards it’s not a good day, but he may be able to help us in a lot of other ways, maybe pass receiving. He may not get as many carries one game, but he did other things in the pass game or protection game.
“That’s something in my mind for him that goes very much unnoticed,” Munchak continued. “We’re a six-man protection team, which means he’s a big part of protection on third down. He stays in there because he’s good at it.”
Munchak says Johnson is not the biggest back to pick up a blitzer but uses good technique in doing so.
If he makes a block that results in a third-down conversion, the team is better off, but most of the attention on the play will follow the ball’s path from QB Jake Locker to a receiver. Munchak said he’s shown clips of Johnson doing that last season and has been pleased with Johnson’s work and approach this offseason.
“We’re planning on him having a big year because that means that things are going well for us,” Munchak said.
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New Titans receivers coach Shawn Jefferson classifies his position group as “under construction” as the Titans advance through their offseason program but said it’s been “very helpful” to see players on the field than just on film.
Jefferson has been laying a foundation for the plan he envisioned when he got the job. He said he’s trying to expose the receivers to as much adversity through hard training and begins every practice by shouting, “Work,” as each receiver hits a blocking sled.
Jefferson played in 195 games in 13 NFL seasons and laces up cleats instead of sneakers every day he hits the field so he can demonstrate routes the way he wants them to be run. He’s also instilling a “no block, no rock” mentality to encourage receivers to take care of responsibilities that go beyond catching and running.
“One thing is we’ve got to be great blockers at the receiver position,” Jefferson said. “That’s the first thing we’ve got to do. We have a running back (Chris Johnson), that every time he touches the ball, he has a chance to take it to the house, so we’re going to give him every opportunity to do that.”
Another strong emphasis is on finishing the play, whether a receiver has the ball or is going to help the player that just caught it. Jefferson’s made it a frequent habit to sprint toward a receiver after a catch, yelling, “Finish,” as defenders swarm and reach for the football and has been vocal when he doesn’t think a player has sprinted hard enough toward the ball after a catch.
“That’s got to be like second nature when one of your teammates catches the ball,” Jefferson said. “You’ve got to hit the trail running. A guy may strip the ball and you may be there to pick it up. I want us to major in the non-talented issues: hustle, attitude, effort. Once you’ve got a group that majors in those — because these guys have the physical tools to play this game, but everybody else in the league has the tools to play this game, so what you’ve got to decide is, ‘What’s your mission statement as a player? Are you going to be relentless?’
“When people see my group, I want them to say those guys major in the non-talent issues,” Jefferson continued. “That’s what I’m trying to instill in them. When it’s not coming your way and you’ve got a block on the backside, ‘What’s your attitude in getting out there to get that touchdown block?’ That’s what I’m interested in. You’re going to catch passes, you’re going to catch touchdowns; I’m interested in the non-talent issues, the want-to.”
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Titans players have repeatedly said how excited they’ve been to participate in this year’s offseason program, but Marc Mariani might be most appreciative of the opportunity.
The former seventh-round draft pick rarely, if ever, has conducted an interview without expressing how thankful he is to be in the NFL. That was the case during his first training camp, after he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie return specialist in 2010 and in each subsequent training camp.
It’s still true, possibly even double-stamped, considering the amount of work the fourth-year pro has put in to return to the field after suffering a broken leg on August 23 in a preseason game against Arizona.
“Every rep for me is huge just because I need to make up for time lost, so I’d say I’m getting there,” Mariani said. “I’m gaining confidence but it’s definitely a battle and I’ve still got some work in front of me so it’s good to be able to participate and not have to wait to be able to be thrown in there, but I definitely have some work to do.”
Mariani endured surgery and said rehab in September, October and November was particularly challenging.
“They were tough (months), and I definitely had a lot of support from ‘Titans Nation’ and my family and friends back home,” Mariani said. “It’s been hard to get to this point. I’m just excited to be here and optimistic about the future.
“I’m working hard every day, and that’s kind of where I’m at,” Mariani continued. “I push through some things and some things I’ve got to hold back on, but kind of day-to-day, week-to-week, I’m just trying to improve and keep progressing as I have been.”
Jake Locker, who went through physical therapy after having his shoulder surgically repaired in January, said he’s happy that Mariani has made it this far back and knows that he’ll keep fighting.
“Marc’s a personal friend of mine and I think a lot of people really enjoy watching him or are a fan of his, so to be able to see him come back and be doing so well, recovering so well from a pretty brutal injury, it’s encouraging,” Locker said. “You’re happy for him. He’s a good guy, he works hard and I think he deserves that opportunity.”
Tags: Marc Mariani, Tennessee Titans
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Jake Locker said he’s enjoyed the increase in reps from a year ago when he was in an offseason competition with Matt Hasselbeck to be Tennessee’s starting quarterback.
Locker was named the starter during the preseason last year and started 11 games. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1 of the regular season, however, and suffered a worsening of the injury in Week 4 that caused him to miss the next five starts.
Locker has shed the shoulder harness he wore to finish the season and by all accounts has recovered nicely from surgery he had in January.
“Having the opportunity to know that you’re the guy going into the year and get those extra reps and be able to see that many more plays from the pocket is a huge difference,” Locker said.
The Titans released Hasselbeck, who promptly joined Indianapolis, and brought in nine-year NFL veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to backup Locker this offseason.
Titans coach Mike Munchak and receiver Kendall Wright said it’s a different offseason for Locker.
“He’s competing with Ryan but it’s his spot and right now it’s his offense, his team,” Wright said. “So we just follow his leadership. So whatever Jake does as far as being a leader and a quarterback we just follow him and try to help him out.”
Locker said he hasn’t felt increased external pressure because of the internal pressure he puts on himself.
“I don’t think anybody will put more pressure on themselves to have success than I will, so I don’t feel that from anybody besides myself,” Locker said. “I’m just excited about having the opportunity to have those real live reps that help you learn and grow.”
Tags: Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
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Titans players on both sides of the ball said they look forward to organized team activity practices that begin today because it will be the first time the revamped offense and defensive will line up against each other in team drills.
Tennessee is in the sixth week of its nine-week offseason program that will culminate with a mini-camp in June. Coaches have been able to guide players through some on-field instruction in the past three weeks but have used upside-down trash cans and traffic cones to simulate offensive and defensive alignments.
Safety George Wilson, who joined the Titans as a free agent this offseason, said the position drills are helpful in teaching alignments and assignments but he looks forward to putting it into practice.
Second-year receiver Kendall Wright said last year that learning the offense became easier once defenders were added. Wright said he looks forward to implementing the offense under new coordinator Dowell Loggains.
“Some of the routes we have, it doesn’t look that good when you do it on air, but once you get a defender in front of you and you get to break them off or something like that, it makes the whole route look better,” Wright said.
Quarterback Jake Locker, who has shed the shoulder harness he needed because of injury in 2012, said his left, non-throwing shoulder feels as good as it did before the injury. He said the Titans need to emphasize getting the most out of OTAs because it will yield results in training camp in July.
“We still have a lot of work to do, and that’s going to be important for us,” Locker said. “There’s going to be an emphasis on continuing to study, continuing to mentally grind so you’re able to go out and compete at a high level and at a fast speed. I think if we’re able to do that, this can be a really talented offense.”
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Justin Hunter’s first month of professional football has included intense workouts in the weight room, learning opportunities in meetings, drills on the field and his first trip to Hollywood.
Sunday will mark a month since the Titans aggressively traded up in the second round to select Hunter at the 34th overall spot in the NFL Draft, and next week will be his first opportunity to line up against pro defenders when the Titans begin their organized team activity practice schedule.
Hunter said he’s been learning from the veterans while he and rookie receivers Travis Harvey, Rashad Ross and Dontel Watkins push each other in the weight room.
“They give us nice tips because they went through it, so they’re trying to help us out as much as they can,” Hunter said. “The workouts are way different from college. The intensity level is way higher, and it’s all power lifting. We go in groups, and everybody in my group has a nice attitude. I think that pushes me harder and makes the workout go a little easier.”
Last weekend Hunter was one of 40 NFL first-year players to attend the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Southern California. The Virginia Beach native said he enjoyed comparing the West Coast with where he grew up, which he said is far less crowded.
“The weather was nice — that’s always a plus. We had a chance to take a photo shoot and sign a bunch of cards,” Hunter. “It was stressful with the cards, but everything else was fun.”
The best part of the trip, Hunter said was reuniting with former Tennessee Volunteers teammate Cordarrelle Patterson, who was picked at 29 by Minnesota, and players he met at the NFL Combine in February.
Hunter said it was a good introduction to the “business side of football” and he looks forward to things becoming “heavier” next week with challenges from defenders.
Tags: Justin Hunter, Titans
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Kendall Wright said Tuesday that Titans receivers have displayed an intense focus on the field and in their meeting rooms during the offseason workout program.
Tennessee is in Week 5 of its nine-week program. The Titans have reached the part where they are allowed to meet with coaches inside Baptist Sports Park and receive on-field instruction during workouts and drills.
Wright, a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, said he’s enjoyed working with Nate Washington, Damian Williams, a healthy Marc Mariani, free agent Kevin Walter and 2013 second-round draft pick Justin Hunter.
The best part, however, may be the way 2009 first-rounder Kenny Britt has returned to action more than a year removed from tearing his ACL and MCL in the third game of 2011.
“Oh yeah, he looks way different,” Wright said. “If you’re out there watching him, you can tell. He’s a whole different Kenny. He took his offseason serious and went and got his knee better.”
Britt underwent multiple surgeries before the 2012 season but started 11 of 14 games in 2012. He recorded 45 catches for 589 yards and had moments where he showed the big-play potential that tormented defensive backs prior to his injury.
Wright thinks Britt and Hunter will provide the Titans with vertical threats in the passing game that will create space for other players.
“Justin is real good from what I’ve seen so far,” Wright said. “He’s only going to get better if he keeps listening to the older guys like Nate, Kenny, Damian, Marc and Kevin. If he keeps listening to those guys and pays attention to what they say, he’ll be even better.”
Tags: Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt
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Although Johnson moved up 38 spots in the player-voted list from after the 2011 season to this past year, he didn’t want his name to appear in the countdown yet.
“Of course I’m angry. You know I’m angry,” Johnson said on NFL Network shortly after the announcement. “Even the year I went for 2,000 yards, I don’t know I think I was 10th or 12th. Come on, now, it just doesn’t make sense, but you know how this is. You never know who’s voting or who don’t like you or whatever.”
Johnson was listed at 100 after the 2011 season when he rushed for a career-low 1,047 yards on 262 carries (4.0 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He added a career-best 57 receptions for 418 additional yards in a Titans offense that used the pass more than in previous seasons and threw for 3,923 yards.
This past season Johnson rushed for 1,243 yards on 276 carries (4.5 yards per attempt) and six touchdowns, including scores of 83, 80 and 94 yards. He added 36 receptions for 232 yards.
Johnson said he’s excited about all the additions the Titans have made to the offensive line and the shift to an offense that places more emphasis on running the football. He said he thinks the addition of Shonn Greene, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, will help both players and enable him to be the most productive he can be with each carry.
His real goal will be to build off last season, which was his fourth of five with at least 1,200 yards, and a higher ranking in the poll likely will follow.
“I’ve always been the guy where everything was on my shoulders, but just talking to the coaches and knowing the plans they want to do and the reasoning for why they brought another guy in,” Johnson said. “I understand it now. At the time, I didn’t understand it when they did it, but I understand it now. We’re going back to a run-first offense and trying to get back to how we had it when Coach (Mike Heimerdinger) was here. Some games we ran the ball 30 and 40 times. I’m not going to sit here and say I want to run the ball 35 times.”
Tags: Chris Johnson
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The Titans have had a busy off-season, filling holes with several new players through free agency and the NFL Draft. But that’s not stopping GM Ruston Webster and his staff from continuing to look at ways to improve Tennessee’s roster.
He told Mike Keith Friday the Titans still have cap room and can afford reasonably-priced players that can help the team this coming season.
“We’ll keep looking. I wouldn’t rule anything out and I wouldn’t be surprised if we sign somebody at some point,” Webster said. “The thing we’re telling ourselves, and we talk about internally, is to keep scouting. Anybody we can find that can help us that we can afford — and that is important right now — we would look at signing them.”
Webster said the team is achieving its goal of adding competition and “wants to put the best team that we possibly can on the field this fall.”
“That’s the goal,” Webster said. “I think we’re much improved and if we can continue to improve, we will.”
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“When I see a receiver blocking in the run game that tells me he really cares about the small details,” Jefferson told Titans Online’s Amie Wells on Tuesday. “All most receivers want to do is catch balls, but here’s this 10-year NFL veteran player that understands the little things that help the running back break free for a long touchdown. We’ve got to have those things if we’re going to be able to compete at a high level.”
Walter, entering his 11th NFL season, joined the Titans during the off-season after a seven-year stint with the Houston Texans. Walter’s veteran presence and professionalism are already rubbing off on his new teammates.
“I’ve been seeing it in practice. He showed up day 1 hitting the ground running,” Jefferson said. “I told (rookie WR) Justin Hunter today, everything that Kevin Walter does, you mimic that guy. He’s a pro. If the route calls for 22 yards, he’s at 22 yards, not 22 and a half. He’s going to be great for a guy like Justin and some of these younger guys. I think that’s what’s been missing from this group — just the little details that will pay off for us down the road.”
Tags: Kevin Walter, Shawn Jefferson
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